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Executive Function Skills Can Be Learned


People are not born organized or disorganized. Humans are born with minimal inherent skills. Instead, we are born with incredible potential for growth. Everyone must learn to manage time, plan, self-regulate, and set goals. These things are crucial for everyday life, and most people must continuously work on them. While this development can be complex for many students, patience, practice, and repetition can help them improve their executive functioning skills.

Why are executive function skills so essential to learn?

Everyone uses executive functioning skills daily, from making plans with friends to getting out the door on time. These skills are necessary for students to succeed in school, their interpersonal relationships, and their job. Conversely, research shows that solid executive function skills predict more successful careers, better overall health, and stronger family connections.

Almost a decade ago, academic institutions began to switch their learning style. Before, emphasis was placed on student’s ability to memorize and repeat information. Now, most schools use project-based learning styles that emphasize learning material in context and applying that knowledge to real-world examples. This newer style is much more difficult for students who struggle with executive functioning because it requires careful planning and organization. However, though it can be more difficult, it does aim to prepare students for life after school. Ensuring your student has strong executive function skills is the best way to prepare them for school and life.

How can you help improve your student’s executive function skills?
Discipline is crucial in developing executive function skills. While this does not mean your student needs to be perfect, they should try their best daily to maintain and improve their skillset. While they are working to develop these skills, there are many ways that you can help! These include:

  • Model good behavior. Children are wired to learn through observation. They will do as you do, not as you say. Suppose you can stick to healthy routines like consuming a balanced diet, going to bed on time, and promoting focused workspaces. In that case, your student is likelier to do the same.
  • Plan ahead. Managing schoolwork, sports, extracurriculars, and personal time is much more difficult when you don’t know what needs to be accomplished for the week. Students with executive function challenges can significantly benefit from planning their week and writing that plan down. If you aren’t sure how to go about this, start by planning around extracurricular activities. Those schedules are typically more rigid and hard to change. Still, they are some of the most beneficial as they provide movement and structure for your student.
  • Set routines. Routines help students understand what is expected of them and how to keep their day on track. Help your student set morning, after-school, and nightly routines to keep them in a good rhythm. These routines should include planning, organizing, exercising, and even sleeping!
  •  Break down large tasks. Students aren’t always sure where to start when faced with a big school project or a complex task. You can help your student by breaking the task into smaller, manageable chunks. For example, when you ask them to clean a messy room, you could be specific and tell them to pick up their clothes, take the dishes to the kitchen, and then sweep the floor. This keeps your student from getting stuck by the broad instruction and doing nothing or picking an unnecessary task that worsens the situation.
  • Add structure wherever possible. Structure is so helpful for students who struggle with executive function. There are many ways to add structure to a routine. Participating in sports and other after-school activities, setting timers while doing homework, and choosing a consistent time to wake up can help your students stay on track and improve school performance. Contrary to popular belief, the structure will not make your student’s life more boring. It will help ease frustrations and stress and improve their emotional and mental well-being.
  • Hold your student accountable. It can be easy to let your student “off the hook” for their actions when they struggle with executive function skills. However, students who fail to accomplish what is expected of them do not fail because they don’t understand the consequences; they fail because they don’t have the tools to succeed. Show your student that you believe in their abilities by expecting them to complete what is asked of them while doing your best to support the process. Be kind and compassionate when giving feedback to hold your students accountable to keep them from shutting down.

By implementing these techniques, you can help your student take the first step to improve their executive functioning skills. Not only can this help them in the classroom, but it also lowers their stress levels and allows them to focus more energy on athletics, extracurriculars, friendships, and other activities that bring them joy.

For More:

Improving Executive Function through Athletics

Why Coaches need to know Executive Functioning too 

Help Build Ef in Team Sports

Teaching Executive Functioning Skills at Home

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